Minister for Transport Shane Ross has denied that he conveyed any agreement to a Bus Éireann plan to restructure its loss-making Expressway operation with staff on lower pay and conditions.

The plan would see Expressway being separated off into a separated subsidiary.

Earlier, informed sources confirmed that Bus Éireann top management had briefed him on details of the proposals at a meeting on 11 September, and that the minister had raised no objection.

However, in a statement issued shortly before 6pm, a spokesperson said that at that meeting they did not discuss any detailed plan, and that at no stage did the minister convey any agreement.

She said the minister was "only listening".

Asked whether that meant he was opposed to the plan, the spokesperson said that she was not saying that.

In a statement, the spokesperson said the minister "was aware that the company is at an advanced stage in preparing a full plan, which he expects to be submitted to him shortly.

"The meeting did not discuss any detailed plan and at no stage did the minister convey any agreement whatsoever."

A spokesperson for Bus Éireann said it was the responsibility of the company's board to run it in a financially prudent way. 

She said the Department of Transport had been kept informed of the €7m cost-saving implementation plan.

She concluded by saying that the Bus Éireann board has approved these cost-saving measures and the department has been kept informed of the company's plans on an ongoing basis.

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It is understood that at a meeting with senior Bus Éireann management, including chief executive Martin Nolan, the minister was given a more detailed outline of the proposals - including wage cuts and sub-contracting - than has yet been presented to staff representatives.

Sources said management has a plan to restructure the company, and a mandate from the board to implement it.

They said all changes envisaged had been given to the department, which had raised no objection. 

Bus Éireann is losing €500,000 a month - largely due to competition on its inter-urban Expressway service.

Management plans to restructure the company involve hiving Expressway off into a separate Bus Éireann-owned subsidiary.

However, staff in that entity face lower pay and conditions as well as sub-contracting of routes and other cost savings.

The workers' claim for a 15% pay raise over three years has been referred to the Labour Court, though no date has yet been fixed.

However, sources said the negotiation process could not go on forever. 

The Bus Éireann board is due to meet in six weeks to finalise its budget for next year.

It is hoped that budget will incorporate whatever changes are ultimately envisaged as part of the restructuring.

While Bus Éireann has never engaged in compulsory redundancy, sources said nothing could be ruled out.